Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Part Shakespeare, part music hall comedyand part Gallagher-act-with-stage-bloodTitus Androgynous is an excellent way to extend the Halloween season by one more weekend. Smart, funny young actors most of them starting out the show in clean white corsets and Edwardian-style underwear, present a blood-soaked, blood-spitting version of the infamous case of Romans v. Goths, which we've known for some 420 years as Titus Andronicus.
Director Chuck Harper has written a brisk, cartoonish adaptation of the original play, and a few other things emerge as well in his crazy retelling, at the 1900-era Centene Center for the Arts. A campy, swaggering homage to A Clockwork Orange seems to develop, regarding what Anthony Burgess called "the old ultra-violence" (that's in act one, where most of the melodramatic incitements occur). And on top of that, there's also a kind of horrific, Looney Tunes type of comedy that's woven into this blood-soaked drama, to carry us madly through act two.
Jonah Walker becomes a wretched, maddened Titus (wretchedly great, that is). And with the help of a singing, keyboard-playing narrator (the excellent Paul Cereghino) and Katy Keating as a strangely grand "presenter," it's all re-dressed as the newest modern Halloween ritual.
Roger Speidel and Jim Wulfsong get credit for the various lifelike, floppy, bloody body parts that are hacked off of various characters, beginning with poor Lavinia (Rachel Tibbetts). Her martyrdom propels much of the action, and Ms. Tibbetts' dim, dizzy suffering is strangely awesome. Erin Renee Roberts is beautifully feral as the sinister Moor, Aaron, leading various characters to their doom. And Maggie Conroy is fiendishly bristling as Tamora, Queen of the Goths, taking her revenge on General Titus almost all the way to the bitter end. This Tamora also supports the Looney Tunes reference with a Daffy Duck sense of outrage, especially in act two.
With its endless gross-out comedy and exuberant "panto" style of characterizations, it is at once an indictment and an outrageous embrace of violence as entertainment. The endless series of mutilations and murders and mayhem, and the great tableaux of absurd weeping and wailing on top of all that, is all admirably ridiculous.
But at the same time, the whole concept of Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" comes into question, as peals of audience laughter (and shrieks) greet each new horror. As an experience, it eventually seems to plunge deep into us with the sharp knives of physical comedy. But there's also a knowing quality to the other key aspect of comedy here (in the songs, written by Mr. Cereghino) that draws us back in. The distancing effect of the violence, and the embracing quality of the musical comedy, keeps us constantly off-balance. And in a very unexpected way, that dialectic forces us to question who we are, as a violence-loving society, and where we may be going next.
And what could be scarier than that?
Through November 5, 2017 at the Centene Center For The Arts, 3547 Olive, just east of Grand Ave. For more information visit the Young Liars' Facebook page.
The Romansbr>Saturnanus, son of the late emperor of Rome: Isaiah de Lorenzo
Aaron the Moore: Erin Renee Roberts